‘They need more help’

Fam­i­lies of drug ad­dicts strug­gle to get help for their loved ones


Note: Names have been changed to pro­tect the iden­ti­ties of the fam­i­lies in­volved.

On Wed­nes­day, Sept. 2, The Com­pass was in­vited to sit in on a Nar­cotics Anony­mous meet­ing with fam­ily mem­bers of drug ad­dicts at the U-Turn ad­dic­tions cen­tre in Car­bon­ear.

In the first two parts of their story, the fam­i­lies ex­plained how they were sick of be­ing blamed for their loved ones’ is­sues and were dis­cour­aged at how easy it is for ad­dicts to ac­cess drugs in the area.

But for those who have tried ev­ery­thing and went ev­ery­where try­ing to get help, they feel like they’re at their wit’s end.

See­ing it hap­pen

Jack has been us­ing drugs for the past decade. He’s been on and off of the methadone pro­gram nu­mer­ous times over that pe­riod, but there’s al­ways some­thing that brings him back to drugs.

Methadone is a syn­thetic opi­oid used as main­te­nance ther­apy for re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dicts. The amount is re­duced grad­u­ally un­til there is no opi­oids de­pen­dency. It must be taken in front of a phar­ma­cist.

Even with a strong sup­port sys­tem, Jack hasn’t been able to suc­cess­fully elim­i­nate drugs from his life. But his fam­ily has also been deal­ing with the strug­gle.

“It af­fects ev­ery­body in the fam­ily to the point that I watched my par­ents’ mar­riage al­most de­te­ri­o­rate,” Jack’s brother Johnny told The Com­pass. “There would be drug deal­ers call­ing the house at all hours, threat­en­ing to kill Jack if our par­ents didn’t pay them what he owed.”

Mary, a mother whose two chil­dren are ad­dicts, has wit­nessed a sim­i­lar strug­gle with her fam­ily. Her chil­dren chose to move out of their fam­ily home and in with their es­tranged fa­ther be­cause she had rules to keep them away from us­ing. Af­ter they left, she of­ten wouldn’t know for weeks, some­times months, if they were alive or dead.

“When you’re us­ing, you’re not think­ing straight, not mak­ing log­i­cal choices,” she added.

Al­ways try­ing

Johnny’s brother and Mary’s kids both started us­ing be­cause of peer pres­sure. But af­ter so long, it was no longer recre­ational — it was an ad­dic­tion they couldn’t kick.

Once they reached the point of no re­turn, each fam­ily be­gan look­ing for help.

Mary tried talk­ing with a so­cial worker, but she said her chil- dren couldn’t get help un­less they vol­un­tar­ily de­toxed at a fa­cil­ity by them­selves. Her son wouldn’t agree to do that.

She also spoke with sev­eral drug coun­sel­lors and felt like they didn’t re­ally un­der­stand what her kids were go­ing through.

“They don’t re­ally get them,” she said.

For Johnny, it was con­sis­tent re­quests to get help. But since he was in his twen­ties, there’s not much they could do but get him on the methadone pro­gram.

Methadone not work­ing

Johnny’s brother and one of Mary’s chil­dren is on the methadone pro­gram, but nei­ther be­lieve it’s the right de­ci­sion.

While wait­ing to get on the methadone pro­gram, Johnny ex­plained Jack had been pre­scribed Oxy­codone, an opi­ate painkiller of­ten abused by users. He was pre­scribed just enough to sta­bi­lize him un­til he got into the pro­gram, but he was al­lowed to take them home.

“Just like the methadone pro­gram, drug ad­dicts should have to take their sched­uled doses of Oxy or Di­lau­did or what­ever in front of a phar­ma­cist,” Johnny ex­plained. “They get 30 days sup­ply that’s gone in a week. Then they have to buy more from the deal­ers. It’s just not work­ing.”

Mary’s child was also in the pro­gram sev­eral times. But she agrees changes are needed for the pro­gram.

“A ma­jor over­haul is needed for the Methadone pro­gram,” she stated. “And it starts with our gov­ern­ment. They don’t re­al­ize that there’s such a big prob­lem out there with drugs.”

She added that ad­dic­tion is a life­long bat­tle, and en­ter­ing the methadone pro­gram is only a step­ping stone.

Johnny be­lieves peo­ple are tak­ing ad­van­tage of the pro­gram. He said the dosage is based on what the pa­tient tells the doc­tor, so they could lie in or­der to ac­cess a higher dosage. This way, they may spend years get­ting sta­ble.

There are cur­rently 1,286 peo­ple in the methadone pro­gram and 100 peo­ple on the wait­ing list.

“Ad­dress­ing the ris­ing rate of opi­oid ad­dic­tion is a top pri­or­ity for the Pro­vin­cial Gov­ern­ment,” a spokesper­son with the Depart­ment of Health and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices told The Com­pass. “We rec­og­nize the ar­eas where im­proved ac­cess to pro­grams and ser­vices is needed and we re­main com­mit­ted to find­ing so­lu­tions for res­i­dents who need help.

A trea­ment cen­tre for youths was opened ear­lier this year in Grand Falls, and an adult ad­dic­tions cen­tre will open in Har­bour Grace this fall. Other op­tions needed Johnny wants to see more coun­selling op­tions for fam­i­lies and ad­dicts, like what is avail­able at the U-Turn ad­dic­tions cen­tre in Car­bon­ear.

“Fam­ily al­ways feels like no­body un­der­stands,” he said. “But there are peo­ple out there who do.”

Mary would like manda­tory fol­low-ups and coun­selling as well, es­pe­cially for ad­dicts.

“Once they’re in re­cov­ery, there’s nowhere for them to turn,” she ex­plained. “They could go right back to us­ing.”

In the end

Mary has been work­ing on her re­la­tion­ships with her chil­dren and help­ing them stay drug free, and she ex­pects there is tough road ahead.

“It’s a very scary, painful or­deal for them,” she said. “When they fi­nally come off the pills and get it out of their sys­tem, they don’t have the men­tal health and help to keep them off the drugs.”

Johnny will con­tinue to be there for his brother, but he knows it is go­ing to be a long road. But he feels if more peo­ple stepped up, more could be done.

“I thought I would bury my brother be­fore I buried a par­ent,” he said. “If more peo­ple were open to talk­ing about drug ad­dic­tion I think there would be changes. But it’s hid­den.”

For now, Mary will con­tinue in­ter­act­ing with fam­i­lies she met through U-Turn, anony­mously. Johnny will work with his fam­ily to keep Jack on the right track. But both know they are just get­ting started with their loved ones’ re­cov­er­ies.



The U-Turn cen­tre in Car­bon­ear hosts weekly meet­ings for rel­a­tives of drug ad­dicts.

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